Detroit — The final play went from rookie to rookie to rookie, and in the playoffs, you grow up fast. The Red Wings are learning on the fly and earning what they get, and they absolutely earned this one.
They pressed and pressed until they couldn't be held back any longer, and turned a dire situation into a prime opportunity. They beat the Ducks, 3-2, on Monday night on a rebound goal by Damien Brunner in overtime, knotting the series at 2 as it heads back to Anaheim. And suddenly, the Wings look like a team gathering energy.
At times it was like tense old times, as the Wings dominated the puck but kept firing into a hot goalie. It went from old times — Pavel Datsyuk was tremendous again — to new times when four playoff newcomers combined on the play that won it.
It began with a pass from Jakub Kindl to Joakim Andersson, who whipped a long pass to Gustav Nyquist, who made a nifty move to control the puck. Nyquist pushed it straight at Jonas Hiller, who left a juicy rebound for Brunner, and determination was rewarded. When Brunner slammed it past Hiller, the already-raucous Joe Louis Arena crowd erupted.
Gradually, youth is being served. Nyquist scored an overtime winner earlier in the series and rookie Brendan Smith tallied the Wings' first goal in this game.
"It's unbelievable to see how everybody's stepped up and played so strong," Smith said. "These guys are playing huge minutes and not even acting like young guys, and I have to throw myself in there, I'm a rookie too."
In fact, on the winning goal, the Wings had five playoff novices on the ice, including rookie Brian Lashoff, and one veteran — goalie Jimmy Howard. Do they still make plenty of mistakes, especially on defense? Oh yes, but the more pressure they face, the more confidence they gain, the more their chances grow.
'We were all over them'
The Ducks have to feel they blew a prime chance here, leading 2-1 with less than seven minutes left before Datsyuk scored. They were that close to a 3-1 series lead, and now the Wings are feeling a whole lot better about themselves.
"I thought we had a great push in the third period, we were all over them at times," Brunner said. "It was not my best night again, but I got the bounce at the end, and I'll take the positive out of it."
Brunner had committed a turnover that resulted in a goal in the Ducks' 4-0 victory in Game 3, and if that play exemplified youthful indiscretions, this game showed how quickly kids can learn, and how urgency translates. The Wings outworked the Ducks and outshot them, 49-33.
"We did a great job on the forecheck, a big effort from everyone in this dressing room," Howard said. "From the drop of the puck, we put the foot on the pedal and ran with it."
If ever the Wings needed to channel their agitation constructively, this was it. They simmered after Game 3, then got whacked with Justin Abdelkader's two-game suspension. It was a major blow, and not just because Abdelkader is a physical presence on the top line. The Wings have been plugging and patching all season, and are running low on mortar.
They were running low on time too, and pressed like they knew it. On a normal, deep Wings team, losing one player wouldn't sink them. On this team, it changed a lot, pushing Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson into important roles after barely playing.
The Wings came out more energized than demoralized and the crowd was thumping from the start. Detroit took its shots early, and in one flurry, about four different players whacked at the puck, looking for that elusive ugly goal. Dan Cleary was particularly active in the crease, but Hiller and his defensemen were in position.
It's a familiar position for the Wings, whose scoring woes still nag. They were 24th in the league in goals during the regular season and suffered their first home playoff shutout since 2007 Saturday night. When the Ducks' Matt Beleskey knocked in his own rebound barely five minutes into this game, it was 1-0, and Anaheim had scored eight of the last nine goals.
You've heard it before: The Wings try mightily to get the puck past (unnamed goalie) in (key playoff game) and vow to (shoot more). They were shooting plenty in this one, but trailed 1-0 for a long time, and everyone in the arena was waiting for something to happen. When Niklas Kronwall leveled Anaheim's Kyle Palmieri midway through the first period, the building was as noisy as ever, echoing with the chant, "You got Kron-walled!"
That particular Duck indeed got Kron-walled but the Wings were getting stonewalled, churning all around Hiller but not getting clean shots. Late in the first period, Henrik Zetterberg was about to slap the puck into a wide-open net when defenseman Ben Lovejoy proved to be quite the killjoy, knocking it away with a lunge of his stick.
If mistakes were a statistic, the Wings would lead the category. After tying it at 1, they surrendered the lead when Lashoff bumped into his own goalie and the Ducks' David Steckel pushed in an easy rebound. But the Wings were determined to overcome it, and sure enough, here came the incomparable Datsyuk, who unleashed a wicked shot that beat Hiller. With 6:33 left, it was 2-2 and you know the routine — one shot, one play, one miscue can alter fates.
That's how it went, and how it probably will go the rest of the series. It takes a break, and the Wings were intent on making theirs. They controlled play and finally were rewarded when Smith's slapshot deflected off a couple Ducks and tied it early in the third period. That broke the Wings' scoring drought, and naturally it came from the only regular without a goal all season.
Hockey is quirky that way, with new names and faces surfacing at unusual times, earning while learning. The Wings buzzed and buzzed, while the Ducks waited to pounce. From groan to growing, the Wings pounced hardest at the end, and played as if they hope to stick around for a while.